Tag Archive: US Supreme Court

The Pen/Ben Impasse: Suggested Solutions

So the state public employee unions and Gov. Christie are at an impasse now. The unions this year showed strength by not bending to the Pen/Ben Commission’s call for extreme changes. However, the unions want a continuing and higher level of state contributions into their plan to insure its solvency. The 2011 law agreed to by both parties was violated by Christie who said he did not have enough money. The N J Supreme Court sided with him that the debt limitation clause did not allow him and the legislature to bind the government to future payments.

In effect Christie can contribute whatever he wants while the fund’s liabilities continue to march toward bankruptcy. Such is not a good scenario for him or the unions. In the meanwhile the annual actuarially sound contribution needed in a few years could exceed $7 billion, be a huge drag on the budget, and continue to increase without a solution. Both Christie and the unions need to come together.

Having violated the very law he touted for years, Christie should take the first step toward a solution. There is now a concurrent resolution (ACR244) passed by the legislature which urges, but cannot require, that the governor make his pension contribution of $1.3 billion by July 15 for fiscal year 2016. The short-term cost of borrowing the money will be far less than the interest received by investing it all early. Also by doing so Christie could not wait until the end of the budget cycle and then say he has insufficient funds. This would be a sign of his good faith toward the unions. Alternately, and less desirable, he could sign bill S3100 on his desk which requires pension contributions be made on a quarterly basis starting August 1. His failure to do either is sheer arrogance and no way to start the bargaining he says he wants.

For bargaining strategy, the difficulties of the process, other options available to unions, and what the Supreme Court said in spite of ruling in Christie’s favor, go below the fold.

McCutcheon vs. FEC: U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Another Campaign Finance Law

The Court that brought you the Citizens United decision, upholding the concept of “corporate personhood” and allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited money independently to influence elections, today struck down federal limits on overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees. Your $35 check, even your $1,000 check, is now worth maybe a little less in the new world of how campaigns are paid for.

Though the contribution limits to candidates for president or Congress stays the same – $2,600 – the Court decided that limits on the total amount given are unconstitutional. This removes the ceiling for wealthy donors, who no longer have to add up all their checks written to make sure they haven’t exceeded the cap currently set by the federal government.

It was a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the decision. The Court found that the limits violate the First Amendment rights of contributors. It’s a green light to superwealthy donors. They, and everyone else have been restricted from giving no more than $48,600 to federal candidates, and $74,600 to political action committees during a two-year election cycle, for a maximum of $123,200. Those limits were part of post-Watergate reforms, to make it harder for big contributors to buy elections with their outsized wallets, and to restore public confidence in campaign finance.

We’re moving backwards now.

The victory goes to Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and GOP activist who challenged the cap on contributions. The RNC is already on record cheering the decision.

  • Here’s the decision – McCutcheon et al vs. Federal Election Commission.

  • Here’s a list of federal primary candidates on the NJ ballot.

  • Mother Jones walks through the implications.

  • Washington Post has the decision’s Winners & Losers.

  • Always worth reading – SCOTUSblog. Also, their live-blog from this morning.


  • Elections are not Horseshoes

    The most optimistic supporters of Barbara Buono’s gubernatorial campaign are quick to point out that the gap between the challenger and the governor in the poll numbers is closing. Let’s assume that this gap continues to get smaller and that Buono loses the election by a small margin, say two percent.

    Some Buono supporters will be mildly disappointed, but nevertheless ecstatic. Disappointed because their candidate lost, but ecstatic that she almost toppled the most popular politician in America. Buono’s campaign staff will move on and put this statistical “upset” on their résumés as they seek jobs for the 2014 campaigns.

    There’s a saying that goes, “coming close only gets you points in horseshoes and thermonuclear war.”

    Don’t ever assume that a close and underwhelming victory by Chris Christie will humble him. Remember when his mentor, George W Bush lost the 2000 election? Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to disenfranchise Florida voters and the fact that Al Gore won the popular vote, upon taking office Bush acted as if he had a mandate to promote the conservative agenda. Christie will do the same if our election is close. He’ll use state resources in court to fight the anticipated override of his veto of marriage equality. He’ll continue to throw lucrative state contracts to his cronies. And he’ll move further to the right on disenfranchising the poor and middle class in order to enhance his presidential ambitions.

    A close loss for Buono is still a loss. Not only for her, but also for the people of New Jersey. That’s why it is critically important to pull off the electoral upset of the decade. Her own party is not helping her, so it’s up to the people to pull out all the stops to send Chris Christie back to his Mendham mansion permanently.

    Despite the numerous missteps of Buono’s campaign staff, it’s time for anyone who gives a damn about this state to volunteer for the campaign. You hate making phone calls? Well, do you hate making phone calls more than you hate what Christie is doing to your state? You can’t afford to contribute to the campaign? Well, if you’re poor or in the middle class, the dollars that you don’t contribute will come back to bite you as higher fees and fewer services if Christie is re-elected.

    Bush “won” in a close election, and the nation is still trying to recover from the mis-steps and damage he precipitated. A second Christie term will result in similar damage to the state – social, economic, and political – and it will take years to recover. A close election is not good enough. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.

    New Jersey is already reaping benefits of health-care reform law

    Dan Benson is vice chair of the NJ Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. He’s from Hamilton and represents the 14th Legislative District. This is cross-posted with Times of Trenton.

    – promoted by Rosi

    Access to quality health care for working-class New Jerseyans is a top priority for my Democratic colleagues in the Legislature and me, which is why progress on this issue is good news for hard-working families.

    Recently, the Legislature approved a bill implementing health exchanges for our state as required by the federal Affordable Care Act.

    This is likely to be the opening salvo in a lengthy discussion in New Jersey about how our state implements federal health-care reform to cover nearly 1 million uninsured residents.

    However, I think it’s important to take a look back over the last two years since the federal law was adopted and see how President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is already helping New Jersey families. While there has been much discussion over the requirement that everyone obtain health insurance, the state health exchanges and the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court challenge, many of the very popular provisions of the new health-care reform law took effect immediately and are too often overlooked or forgotten in the debate.

    Lautenberg blasts Buchanan over Supreme Court comments

    Senator Lautenberg is engaged in a war of words with Pat Buchanan regarding religion and the Supreme Court. From Buchanan’s May 14 column:

    If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.

    Is this the Democrats’ idea of diversity?

    First it was speculation about her orientation, now commentary based on her religion.That comment didn’t sit well with Senator Lautenberg:

    “It is outrageous that Mr. Buchanan is using Elena Kagan’s religion as kindling to enflame opposition to her nomination to the Supreme Court,” stated Lautenberg. “Elena Kagan was chosen by President Obama because of her ability and knowledge, and Mr. Buchanan’s comments undermine her significant legal achievements. It sounds like Mr. Buchanan longs for the days when religious quotas kept people out of high-ranking positions in government.”

    Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t think about what her religion was when she was nominated.  I was more concerned with where she stood on the issues. And where were Buchanan’s objections when the court was majority catholic?

    The Wall Street Journal is concerned about the loss of WASP’s on the court too. I wonder if the Senator will have a response to them.  

    NJ Senators fight for Sotomayor ahead of Senate vote

    We saw speeches on the floor of the Senate yesterday ahead of the confirmation vote for Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  Our Senators are squarely in her corner fighting for her confirmation:

    Menendez: She is “one of the most qualified judges ever to be nominated to be a Supreme Court justice, more qualifications in terms of federal experience than any justice nominated in the last 100 years, someone whose record of faithfulness to the Constitution, to the rule of law, precedent, is really unquestionable.”

    Lautenberg: “If confirmed, she will be the only member of the Supreme Court who has previously worn a trial judge robe..”

    Here are Senator Menendez’s comments from the floor on why she should become the next Supreme Court Justice:

    And here is some video from Politico of a rally held yesterday on Capitol Hill with Legislators and supporters where Senator Menendez spoke as well:

    CSPAN sent out a tweet linking to their running tallies of commitments for voting.  As it stands now, there are 63 Senators in favor, 31 voting in opposition and 6 members that are undecided, with 5 of those undecided being Democrats. They are scheduled to have the vote in the Senate later today.  

    Menendez talks Sotomayor, the courts and Burris on Hardball

    Senator Menendez and Senator Klobuchar appeared on Hardball Thursday night to talk about the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.  The Senator thinks the Republicans are walking a fine line with their attacks and that they will have to face the consequences of those actions. Mathews then asked whether the reaction of the Republicans to Sotomayor will help Democratic candidates up for election in the Senate next year.

    Mathews turned to the California Prop 8 challenge by Ted Olsen and David Boies. He asked if that issue was coming down the road before the court. Both Klobuchar and Menendez danced around this one, but Menendez said that he thought that if this court took the case, they wouldn’t uphold the decision.

    After the questions about the Justice nominee and the court, Mathews then questioned for Menendez about Illinois US Senator Roland Burris. Menendez said he did not understand Roland Burris’s explanation of why he offered to raise money for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, while saying he did not and would not say whether he was supporting another candidate in the election, but did mention the potential for others running:

    What SCOTUS didn’t say about redistricting

    Last week, the Supreme Court handed down an important decision in the North Carolina redistricting case Bartlett v. Strickland. The decision prompted Essex County Senator Kevin O’Toole to threaten a new challenge to the legislative map. Earlier this week, Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll joined the Republican cacophony railing against the legislative map.

    Carroll and other Republicans are misinterpreting the Court’s decision in Bartlett v. Strickland. The decision narrows the scope of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits electoral practices that prevent minority groups from electing reprentatives of their choice. An earlier Supreme Court decision, Thornburg v. Gingles, held that only a minority population that is “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district” can claim that a redistricting plan dilutes its votes and therefore violates section 2. The decision in Bartlett v. Strickland clarifies this requirement, so that a specific minority group (normally blacks or Hispanics) must constitute 50% of the voting-age population in a proposed district to assert a claim of vote dilution under Section 2. Thus African-Americans in the proposed single-member “coalition” district based around Plainfield could not make a claim of vote dilution, but Hispanics in the proposed Newark district could. (note: populations for “proposed single-member districts” are half the population of an average legislative district, because each legislative district elects two representatives to the Assembly.)

    Hispanic voters in Newark may make a claim of vote dilution… …but Black voters in Plainfield may not.

    (more below the fold)